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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
Warren Gamaliel Harding
"WARREN GAMALIEL HARDING (1865-), 29th President of the United States, was born at Corsica (then Blooming Grove), Morrow co., Ohio, Nov. 2 1865, son of George Tyron Harding, a farmer and country doctor, and Phebe Elizabeth Dickerson. He studied in the common schools, and from 14 to 17 at the Ohio Central College at Iberia. He taught in a country school for a year, read law for a short time, worked in a newspaper office, and in 1884 became editor and proprietor of the Marion Star. On July 8 1891 he married Florence Kling. Having attracted the notice of Senator Joseph B. Foraker ( see 10.628), he was encouraged to enter state politics, and was early recognized as an effective speaker. He served two terms in the Ohio Senate (1900-4), and during the second was influential in securing Senator Foraker's reelection to the U.S. Senate. From 1904 to 1906 he was lieutenant-governor of Ohio, but in 1910, when nominated for governor by the Republicans, was defeated by a plurality of 10o,000. In the campaign of 191 2 his paper supported President Taft. In 1914 he defeated Foraker in the Republican primaries as candidate for the U.S. Senate, and was elected with a majority of 10o,000 for the term of 1915-21; but his friendship with Foraker remained unabated. In 1916 he was delegate-atlarge from Ohio to the Republican National Convention, of which he was chosen permanent chairman. In the Senate he was regarded as a " safe " man, who could be relied upon to support orthodox Republican policies. In 1915 he urged " preparedness " for naval defence. In 1916 he voted against the confirmation of Louis D. Brandeis as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1917 he gave his support to the declaration of war against Germany, and also to all the war measures, including the Selective Draft and Espionage bills. He favoured the death penalty for spies, but after the war advocated amnesty for political prisoners. He opposed the suggested Federal control of food and fuel. He favoured the Prohibition Amendment, and voted for the Volstead Act, enforcing war-time prohibition, over the President's veto. He favoured the anti-strike clause of the Cummins Railway bill, and voted for return of the lines to their owners within a year after the end of the war. He was for exempting American shipping from Panama Canal tolls and also supported woman suffrage. He was opposed to the Covenant of the League of Nations, holding that " either the Covenant involves a surrender of national sovereignty and submits our future destiny to the League, or it is an empty thing, big in name, and will ultimately disappoint all of humanity that hinge its hopes upon it." He voted for the Lodge reservations and also for the Reed reservation that the United States alone should judge whether matters of direct interest to it should be brought before the League; and finally he voted against ratification of the Treaty as submitted by President Wilson. He maintained that Americans should show chief concern for America, and opposed all tendencies toward internationalism. He supported the Knox resolution declaring that war with Germany was ended.
At the Republican National Convention in 1920 he was not at first among the prominent candidates for president. On the first ballot he received 651 votes (493 being necessary for choice), 39 of these being from his own state. On the eighth ballot he received 1331 votes, on the ninth 3742 votes, and on the tenth he secured the nomination with 6922 votes, the result being due largely to the support of certain influential U.S. Senators, delegates to the convention, who hoped that as president he would be amenable to the Senate. He did not " stump " the country, but conducted his campaign from the " front porch " of his own home. Mr. Harding based his campaign chiefly upon criticism of the Wilson administration, denouncing especially the excessive power that, as he maintained, had been exercised by the executive as a result of war centralization; he demanded as speedy as possible a return to normal conditions, political and industrial. While opposing the Covenant of the League of Nations, he gave to many of his supporters the impression that he desired an " association of nations " which, without the characteristics of a super-state (such as he believed the League to be), might safeguard peace. But he retained the political support of many who were opposed, like Senators Borah and Johnson, to any sort of international association. In the November elections he won an overwhelming victory over James M. Cox, the Democratic nominee, also from Ohio; he carried, generally by immense majorities, all the northern states and all but one of the states on the border between North and South, and he cut down materially the Democratic majorities in the South. The electoral vote was 404 for Harding against 127 for Cox. The popular vote was 16,138,009 for Harding against 9,142,000 for Cox. In Ohio the popular vote was 1,182,000 for Harding against 780,000 for Cox. The sweeping character of his victory was due less to his own personal strength or to the weakness of Cox than to the national reaction against the Democratic party and the popular feeling against President Wilson. Mr. Harding resigned from the U.S. Senate in Dec. 1920, and was inaugurated March 4 1921, the sixth President to come from Ohio.
The promise frequently made by Republican campaign leaders that Mr. Harding would surround himself with advisers of capacity and experience, seemed to be fulfilled by his choice of Cabinet members. The outstanding names were those of Charles E. Hughes and Herbert C. Hoover, who became Secretary of State and of Commerce respectively. The distinguished career of the former and the widespread confidence in his ability and political integrity had marked him for the most important position in the Cabinet; and there had been a general demand that the new administration should utilize the organizing ability displayed by Hoover in many fields. Various elements in the Republican party, nevertheless, had stoutly opposed their appointment, so that the President's choice showed that he was prepared to exert his independence of party managers and to insist upon administrative efficiency. The choice of Andrew W. Mellon, a wealthy banker and ironmaster of Pittsburgh, as Secretary of the Treasury, was welcomed by men of business; and though that of Will H. Hays to be Postmaster-General was in the nature of payment of a political debt to the man who had been the successful manager of the Republican campaign, it was early justified by his efficient administration of the postal service. Mr. Harding's inaugural address, and his first message to Congress, delivered in person on April 12, voiced his desire to return to " normalcy," as he expressed it. Retrenchment in expenditure formed a major item in his programme, together with a prompt and thorough revision of taxation. He advocated the adoption of a national budget system, and, Congress having passed a budget bill similar to that vetoed by Mr. Wilson in 1920, he approved it on June 10 1921; it provided for a Budget Bureau in the Treasury Department and the appointment of a director of the budget, the first being Charles G. Dawes, formerly general purchasing agent of the American Expeditionary Force. President Harding's first budget was presented Dec. 5 1921. The President was insistent upon the need of repealing the excess profits taxes and reducing transportation taxes and income surtaxes. The need of financial retrenchment led to his opposing the proposal that war veterans should receive a cash bonus. In this matter, as in others, he proved his ability at this early stage to resist political pressure. As regards the tariff he advocated, as a temporary stop-gap, the passing of the emergency tariff, which had been vetoed by President Wilson, but which with slight alteration was approved by Mr. Harding on May 27 1921. He urged the need of adopting a permanent tariff policy, and on Dec. 5 1921 suggested a " flexible tariff " which might provide for the adjustment of rates to meet unusual and changing conditions. Such adjustments might be made, in his opinion, by the executive on the advice of the Tariff Commission. Mr. Harding's interest in agricultural problems was keen; in his first message he asked special protection for agricultural interests, and in his second he declared that something more than protection must be given the farmers, advocating warmly the encouragement of cooperative marketing plans. As regards domestic legislation, the President, in general, assumed the role of moderator. He disclaimed any desire to enlarge the powers and responsibilities of the executive, which, he declared, were already too large; and he aimed at close cooperation with Congress. In marked contrast to his predecessor, he left administrative responsibility to the members of his Cabinet. Foreign policy was largely determined by Hughes, financial by Mellon, and the problem of unemployment was thrown upon Hoover. The President, however, frequently played an active role in the conferences necessary to secure general agreement, as on Aug. 9 1921 when an accord was reached between the Treasury and the Representatives on the taxation plan.
The foreign policy of the administration at first seemed likely to emphasize independence of action, in contradistinction to that of President Wilson; the threatened war between Panama and Costa Rica was prevented by a sharp note from Secretary Hughes; the claims of the Japanese to a mandate over Yap were stoutly denied; the administration refused to follow Great Britain in resuming trade relations with Soviet Russia. President Harding made plain in his first message that the United States would not enter the League of Nations. But he expressed himself warmly in favour of active cooperation with other nations of the world, and by accepting the invitation to participate in interAllied councils indicated that he would avoid a policy of isolation. In rejecting the League Covenant, he said " we make no surrender of our hope and aim for an association to promote peace, in which we would most heartily join." The President advocated a declaration of peace with Germany by resolution, and the immediate negotiation of a treaty. This policy was adopted by Congress, which agreed upon a joint peace resolution, signed by him on July 2. On Aug. 25 1921, a treaty with Germany was signed, embodying the President's plan of including most of the stipulations of the Versailles Treaty, but repudiating adherence by the United States to any clause referring to the League of Nations. This treaty and similar pacts with Austria and Hungary were ratified by the Senate, Oct. 18 1921.
The most important step taken by President Harding during the first year of his administration was the calling of an international conference on the limitation of armaments. On May 25 1921 the Senate had adopted an amendment of Senator Borah to the Navy bill, authorizing and inviting the President to call such a conference. Mr. Harding's preliminary invitations to the principal naval Powers (Great Britain, Japan, France and Italy) were sent July 10, and formal invitations Aug. 11. He made clear his belief that the question was closely connected with the problems of the Pacific and Far East, and invitations were also sent accordingly to China and to the smaller European powers with Far-Eastern interests - Holland, Belgium and Portugal. The invitations were accepted, and the conference assembled at Washington on Nov. 12. President Harding avoided the example set by his predecessor, and did not himself participate as a delegate. He displayed his political tact in the choice of the American delegation, which was led by Secretary Hughes and included, besides Elihu Root, two members of the Senate, Lodge and Underwood, the Republican and Democratic leaders respectively. The policy drafted by the President and Mr. Hughes was direct and vigorous. They refused to permit the vital problem of limitation of armaments to be side-tracked, and surprised the conference by proposing a ten-year naval holiday and a drastic scrapping of tonnage by the three chief naval Powers. The President made it clear that he regarded the conference merely as a step in securing international understanding and good will; he advocated the convening of succeeding conferences as a possible means of securing an international association for the promotion of peace, and he approved the principle of substituting an understanding between the United States, Great Britain, France and Japan regarding Far-Eastern problems, for the existing Anglo-Japanese Treaty. (See WASHINGTON CON FERENCE.) The initiative taken by President Harding in calling the conference, and the extent of its success, intensified the feeling which had been steadily growing during the first session of his administration, that he possessed qualities peculiarly adapted to the political conditions of the moment. He had faced difficult problems with independence and yet he had been able to inaugurate something of an " era of good feeling." His " gospel of understanding " had proved effective both in domestic and foreign politics. (C. S.)
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Warren Gamaliel Harding'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/w/warren-gamaliel-harding.html. 1910.